Story: Seeking inspiration to write his next novel, American Clifford Bradshaw boards a train for Berlin in 1930. He is quickly befriended by a German businessman named Fritz Ludwig, who tells Cliff about a boarding house he recommends that is run by a woman named Fraulein Schneider.
Cliff finds the place and reaches an agreement on rent with the genial landlady. As it’s New Year’s Eve, he follows up on Fritz’s suggestion that he visit the notorious Kit Kat Klub, where a leering master of ceremonies leads the club’s dancers in a number of risqué numbers. The MC also introduces an English singer named Sally Bowles, who then performs for the audience.
Sally spots Cliff in the room afterward and strikes up a conversation. When she is abruptly fired by the club manager Max she shows up later at Cliff’s room and invites herself in for what turns out to be a long relationship.
Life is carefree and reckless in post-World War I Germany, but there are ominous signs in the air with the rise of the National Socialist Party and its intolerance of minorities. Eventually Fraulein Schneider’s Jewish suitor Herr Schultz is targeted as are the gays and bohemians who frequent the Kit Kat Klub. The free-wheeling life style in Berlin is about to change while Cliff and Sally are “fast asleep.”
Highlights: Roundabout Theatre Company is celebrating its 50th anniversary with a return engagement of its 1998 Broadway production that garnered four Tony Awards, including Best Revival of a Musical. The touring troupe presently performing at The Fox Theatre offers a smashing and eerily relevant version of this enduring classic of American musical theater.
Other Info: Composer John Kander, lyricist Fred Ebb and writer Joe Masteroff combined on the 1966 Broadway musical that won eight Tony Awards, including Best Musical. They based their work on a play by John Van Druten called I Am a Camera, which in turn had been inspired by Christopher Isherwood’s book, The Berlin Stories, which recounted his time in Germany prior to World War II.
Set in a decadent, no-holds-barred Berlin nightclub where inhibitions are left at the door, Cabaret seems strikingly relevant in this new touring presentation due in no small part to the rancorous political climate in America today. This version is based on the 1998 revival directed by Sam Mendes and co-directed by choreographer Rob Marshall which ran for six years and 2,378 performances, the third-longest-running revival in Broadway history and longer than the show’s original run of 1,166 performances three decades earlier.
Roundabout’s version includes an arresting, stark scenic design that accentuates the seedy atmosphere of the Kit Kat Klub, including having the band perform in its scanty wardrobe on the second tier of the set. With musical supervision and vocal arrangements by Patrick Vaccariello, musical director and conductor/pianist Robert Cookman leads the spirited musicians in an invigorating performance that ratchets up the show's sensual, sinewy nature.
The ensemble features several stellar performances, led by Jon Peterson’s hedonistic and impish MC, a character who even saunters into the audience at the beginning of Act II for some of his trademark double entendres that permeate Masteroff’s script.
Peterson sets the tempo with his lusty rendition of Willkommen at the musical’s start. He’s just as prominent in the work’s increasingly dark second act when he dances with a woman in a gorilla costume in the damning If You Could See Her bit, which underscores the deadly destruction about to be inflicted on the people unwelcome in Hitler’s Third Reich.
Cabaret is perpetually veering into the forebodingly repressive politics in Germany as Hitler rises to power. Peterson seems at the center of all of the musical action, including the sinister number, Money, inside the ribald nightclub, but he pops up ominously in other scenes, too.
On the outside, the likes of Ernst Ludwig and his menacing cohorts are growing in size and intolerance, as evidenced by the nasty crescendo that culminates the ominous Tomorrow Belongs to Me number at Act I’s conclusion. Representing this element of German society in splendid performances are Patrick Vaill as Ludwig and Alison Ewing as the prostitute Fraulein Kost.
Mary Gordon Murray and Scott Robertson share an easy chemistry as the aged romantics Fraulein Schneider and Herr Schultz, highlighted by the joy that fruit vendor Schultz conveys to Schneider with the gift of a rare pineapple.
At the center of the action are engaging performances by Benjamin Eakeley as Cliff and Leigh Ann Larkin as Sally Bowles. Eakeley walks a fine line capturing both the bisexual drive of the American writer and his reserved nature. As Bowles, Ewing shows us the British songbird’s irrepressible spirit as well as her self-destructive nature in equal doses.
BT McNicholl directs this touring show at a sprightly pace that nonetheless picks up all the nuances in the script, while Cynthia Onrbuia’s choreography expertly recreates Marshall’s smart and sexy moves in the infamous Kit Kat Klub.
Robert Brill designed the effective, twin-tiered set, dominated by a skewed square above the main floor, with meticulous lighting added by Peggy Eisenhauer and Mike Baldassari. William Ivey Long provides the tawdry, tacky and appropriate costumes for the dancers and the more staid look for Cliff, Herr Schultz and Fraulein Schneider.
When Sally croons the title song she’s almost imploring the audience to remain in the good old days. This stylish, savage production of Cabaret will make you glad that you did.
Group: Touring Company
Venue: Fox Theatre, 527 North Grand
Dates: Through March 19
Tickets: From $25 to $100; contact 534-1111 or metrotix.com
Rating: A 5 on a scale of 1-to-5.